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Thursday, February 02, 2006

EMOs are the Future of the Chicago Public Schools

Charlie and Isabelle have been listening to the Langley Elementary Schools Music Project’s Innocence and Despair. The recording is from the 1976-1977 school year and features Canadian elementary students singing pop songs from the 60’s and 70’s. Isabelle and Charlie love the version of Sweet Caroline. It is a reminder of the possibilities of arts education, and hey, the kids love it.

Anyway, on the education front I’ve been reading a lot about education management organizations (EMOs). EMOs are for profit companies that come in and oversee charter school operations. Of course the traditional education establishment—schools of education types—are against these entities. They argue that EMOs are another example of the corporatization of education that runs counter to democratic ideals…huh? A brief look at the history of education in this country makes it clear that corporate interests have always been at the heart of education. Check out John Taylor Gatto’s The Makers of Modern Schooling for some background. The problem is that the in your face approach of EMOs is perceived as threat to the triad of educationalists, careerist, and unionists. Clearly, the triad has mobilized out of self-preservation. Remember one of the major reasons our urban schools are in such disarray is because of this triad. In many respects this triad has created its own kingdom and made a ton of money too.

In Chicago, many teachers have ACT scores well below the state average. They come from third tier schools of education and are looking for teaching jobs that offer job security—classic careerist. Obviously they oppose merit pay, school choice, and accountability. Remember that the bulk of CPS administrators come from these ranks. Yes, and 100’s of them pull in six figure incomes. When six figure folk lose their jobs, they scramble and are picked up elsewhere in the board; therefore, despite the tough talk there is no real accountability at the board when it comes to its highest earners. This phenomenon is similar to the rearranging of deck chairs on the Titanic. This happens because there is no real competition or oversight. For that reason alone we should all embrace EMOs. The system is not only failing the students it is failing the taxpayers too. Here’s a radical idea, Mayor Daley should take his own advice when it comes to throwing good money after bad and dismantle the bureaucracy that is CPS and replace it with an EMO at a fraction of the cost. Of course this would spell an immediate end to careerism at the board. Why not do it? Just maybe, they’d do a better more efficient job than the status quo. Six-sigma quality control may not work with students because kids aren’t widgets, but it could certainly work with teachers and administrators.

What about the union? Yeah, what about the union? EMOs are for profit and sustained profits are a sign that a company or school is doing things right and pleasing its customers. A profitable board of education would be in a good position to have "rainy day" funds to make needed school repairs. Profits also reflect better management and planning; in short a more efficient system. For teachers, profitability can also mean the opportunity to personally share in the success. For example, a New York-based EMO now offers its teachers stock options, an added benefit that traditional educational institutions and arrangements cannot provide. So what about the unions?

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